There were three watchers, two men and a boy. They were using telescopes, not field glasses. It was a question of distance. They were almost a mile from their target area, because of the terrain. There was no closer cover. It was low, undulating country, burned khaki by the sun, grass and rock and sandy soil alike. The nearest safe concealment was the broad dip they were in, a bone-dry gulch scraped out a million years ago by a different climate, when there had been rain and ferns and rushing rivers.
The men lay prone in the dust with the early heat on their backs, their telescopes at their eyes. The boy scuttled around on his knees, fetching water from the cooler, watching for waking rattlesnakes, logging comments in a notebook. They had arrived before first light in a dusty pick-up truck, the long way around, across the empty land from the west. They had thrown a dirty tarpaulin over the truck and held it down with rocks. They had eased forward to the rim of the dip and settled in, raising their telescopes as the low morning sun dawned to the east behind the red house almost a mile away. This was Friday, their fifth consecutive morning, and they were low on conversation.
"Time?" one of the men asked. His voice was nasal, the effect of keeping one eye open and the other eye shut.
The boy checked his watch.
"Six-fifty," he answered.
"Any moment now," the man with the telescope said.
The boy opened his book and prepared to make the same notes he had made four times before.
"Kitchen light on," the man said.
The boy wrote it down. 6:50, kitchen light on. The kitchen faced them, looking west away from the morning sun, so it stayed dark even after dawn.
"On her own?" the boy asked.
"Same as always," the second man said, squinting.
Maid prepares breakfast, the boy wrote. Target still in bed. The sun rose, inch by inch. It jacked itself higher into the sky and pulled the shadows shorter and shorter. The red house had a tall chimney coming out of the kitchen wing like the finger on a sundial. The shadow it made swung and shortened and the heat on the watchers' shoulders built higher. Seven o'clock in the morning, and it was already hot. By eight, it would be burning. By nine, it would be fearsome. And they were there all day, until dark, when they could slip away unseen.
"Bedroom drapes opening," the second man said. "She's up and about."
The boy wrote it down. 7:04, bedroom drapes open.
"Now listen," the first man said.
They heard the well pump kick in, faintly from almost a mile away. A quiet mechanical click, and then a steady low drone.
"She's showering," the man said.
The boy wrote it down. 7:06, target starts to shower.
The men rested their eyes. Nothing was going to happen while she was in the shower. How could it? They lowered their telescopes and blinked against the brassy sun in their eyes. The well pump clicked off after six minutes. The silence sounded louder than the faint noise had. The boy wrote: 7:12, target out of shower. The men raised their telescopes again.
"She's dressing, I guess," the first man said.
The boy giggled. "Can you see her naked?"
The second man was triangulated twenty feet to the south. He had the better view of the back of the house, where her bedroom window was.
"You're disgusting," he said. "You know that?"
The boy wrote: 7:15, probably dressing. Then: 7:20, probably downstairs, probably eating breakfast.
"She'll go back up, brush her teeth," he said.
The man on the left shifted on his elbows.
"For sure," he said. "Prissy little thing like that."
"She's closing her drapes again," the man on the right said.
From Echo Burning by Lee Child. (c) June 2001, Putnam Pub Group, used by permission
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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